For Kabir Kala Manch, art is much more than entertainment. It’s an anthem to denounce injustice, mobilise the oppressed, prepare them for struggle, create consciousness and ensure change. Kabir Kala Manch is a group of students and professionals. It has been creating awareness about social issues through their Shahiri, protest songs and street plays in Pune.
In May 2011, members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a group of Dalit protest singers and poets from Pune, were accused by the police of being Naxalites. Two KKM members have been in prison for more than a year, while others are hiding, in fear of their safety. There is no evidence mostly it is to do with supposed ties to Anjali Sontakke, the Naxal ideologue arrested by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad in April last year
Release KKM members
According to official government figures, on an average 2 dalits are killed and 3 raped every day across India. All the more shocking is the fact that even in Maharashtra which gave birth to major social reformists and progressive thinkers like Jotiba Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the incidence of atrocities remains unacceptably high.
In this landscape it cannot be surprising that dalit and adivasi youth have begun to voice their protest more openly than before. After the police killings at Ramabai colony and later, the Khairlanji massacre many protests took place. Instead of bringing the guilty to book, the State responded by branding the protesters as Naxalites (Maoists). Dalit cultural activists like Sudhir Dhawle were jailed for “sedition” and remain behind bars for years, pending trial.
It is in this context that the story of Kabir Kala Manch must be understood. KKM is a Pune based cultural troupe mainly consisting of Dalit youth from the region. First coming together against the communal carnage in Gujarat, they took part in innumerable public interest causes like slum-dwellers rights, workers rights and sustainable development, but their special affinity has been fighting for the annihilation of caste to which end they even held events promoting inter-caste marriage. As a cultural troupe they performed for and with movements led by Medha Patkar and Bhai Vaidya as well as with groups from the working class movement.
Around last year the state began to brand them as Naxalites. Today while Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle of KKM are in prison, many other members including lead singer-poets Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali have gone underground after threats from the police. All are charged with being Naxalites and the ATS is using an uncritical media to plant regular allegations against the KKM. Even these allegations do not accuse the KKM of any violence, but are dependent mainly on guilt by association.
KKM came under the State’s radar with its frequent allusions to democracy’s failures, about oppression, and domination of one caste over the other. When Sheetal Sathe sang how Ambedkar said if the Constitution did not give people justice — political, social and economic — his people should overthrow it, the State began to act.
I as a member of Kabir Kala Manch Defense Committee demand
1. The government of Maharashtra to withdraw all false charges against members of the KKM,
2. Free the cultural activists who are currently in prison
3. Allow the KKM to perform in public again.